I am always looking for inspiration for my articles and this month it came from a wall of quotes created by my niece. This month is all about phases – how we cope with them; how we learn from them; how we survive them.
So how did my 15-year-old niece inspire me?
What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.
In all life in general, you go into each phase with certain expectations and ideas of how it is meant to be. How it was for the person before you. How it was for your friend or neighbour; how it was for the person in the advert. It is natural to seek advice and opinion; to be informed and up to date on what to expect. How much of this though influences your feelings about how you are dealing or coping with what you are going through.
When working with parents, a phrase that often comes up in answer to the question on how to cope or survive different challenges is “It is what it is.” Entering a phase with an idea of how it “should” be will inevitably set you up for comparison and judgment. But by having an attitude of acceptance of the situation for just what it is, without the judgement or comparison, it can become more manageable. There is no room for guilt or criticism that what you’re experiencing isn’t going right or you haven’t managed it correctly – it is what it is. An element of freedom is created. Parents talk of being released of anxiety and pressure when they take on board this mantra and use it as an approach to certain challenges.
Take toddler-hood for example. You are told about the “terrible twos” and therefore as your children approach two, you begin to look for behaviour and evidence of such a phase. As I witness one of my sisters having to deal with this particular phase with my nephew, in all its clichés, I reflect on my own daughter’s year of being two and remember it wasn’t two I struggled with but her behaviour at three. And note: the phase was my issue, not hers. She was simply being.
It was me who struggled with her being three and all it entailed. Perhaps I was in a better place to manage her year of being two than I was when she was three. Perhaps I read more about what to expect at age two and forgot about what happens at age three! Perhaps my expectations of what the terrible two’s would be like didn’t come to fruition and so I let my guard down and relaxed and forgot I still had a developing toddler, full of burgeoning independence; awash with the wonders of the world and fearful yet motivated by learning about her place in it.
The thing about phases, which I share regularly with parents I work with, is that they end! It is a period of time you get through. As a parent, enveloped in whatever phase you and your children are currently experiencing, you just don’t want to hear some smug comment from someone on the other side about “how quickly it’ll pass and so you need to enjoy it while it lasts.” I know my other sister, dealing with teenagers, would happily throw her much needed and deserved wine over anyone who suggested she “enjoy” her teenagers when they are in mid-crisis. The benefit of toddlers in mid-tantrum is that they are essentially cute. It is evolution’s way of making sure they survive into childhood. A toddler is easily forgiven with a cute turn of phrase or a flutter of eyelashes.
Teenagers make you earn your parenthood. This is where all the hard-earned parenting through the previous years comes to fruition. They may not be cute, but they are baby-adults designed to handle the rough and tumble of adolescence. This is where you admire the scars and say “cheers” on making it this far. That and the fact they sleep half the day means you have respite from the grunts, back-chat, eye-rolling, and slamming doors up until at least 1 p.m. It may not be cute, but it is evolution’s way of making sure they survive this phase.
How you get through each of these phases, and the ones not mentioned, is up to you. Up to your perspective and your attitude. Again my niece’s wall of inspiration came up with the summative quote:
When something goes wrong in your life, just yell ‘plot twist!’ and move on.
It really is as simple as deciding what the storyline of your experience is going to be; a plot twist or the whole story.
And so that reflection leads me to think about other phases and what they actually mean. This is particularly poignant for me as I have just turned 40 and enter my 5th decade. I am now in what is considered midlife. Is this even a phase? Not according to my daughter, as I tried to reassure her getting older didn’t immediately condemn me to an untimely death, as she thought. I have always looked forward to each birthday, not willing to adhere to the idea they are all the same as the next after a certain age, or that you stop counting or that you just forget them entirely. I wondered what it was that I saw so positive in turning older. What could I say to my daughter to reassure her aging was not something to fear, but to embrace and see the benefit of? And so I said “I love turning a year older because it means I’ve had another year with you. Aren’t I lucky?” It may not be the definitive answer to her worries but it worked at the time and encompasses a lot of how I feel about ageing.
I remember reading an article in a magazine about seven years ago profiling an older actress (I can’t remember who but suspect someone like Julia Redgrave or Helen Mirren) who when asked about ageing and the suggestion of having “work done,” stated something to this effect “why would I want to erase the wisdom I have earned? I would never want to negate the experiences l’ve had.” I consider this to be a defining attitude about ageing. Nor do I want to iron out the hard-won experiences etched into my face nor denounce or ignore each birthday as it comes. I have earned this year and look forward to what each new one brings. I am not ageing – I am gaining wisdom through experience. Each year is a gift given to spend with my friends and family, doing the things that create stories in the lines and weathering in my face.
And yes, there is an end to each phase. Whether it be toddler-hood, the teen years or mid-life, or even just the passing of a year, you will find me celebrating the survival of each and the gift of what is to come. I will also be peering carefully into the mirror to discover and embrace evidence of wisdom gained.